by Edward Rommen
What’s being done in Germany shows that co-operation is better than competition.
In 1975 Horst Marquardt, director of the German-speaking branch of Trans World Radio, wrote: "The best way to help the believers in Europe is not to bypass them, so that all they see is hopeless individualism, but to encourage and assist them in the work God has been blessing and using to build up his kingdom." Although this advice is often overlooked by American missionaries, our experience in West Germany has convinced us of its effectiveness.
For the last 10 years Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) missionaries have been cooperating with the Federation of Free Evangelical Churches in West Germany (GFC). This is a small denomination which, together with the Baptists and the Methodists, make up the free church (non-Lutheran protestant churches) movement. It describes itself as"…a spiritual fellowship for service and life, made up of autonomous churches. Binding’ authority is the Bible, God’s Word in questions of faith, doctrine and conduct. Membership is for believers only, i.e., those who confess to have obtained forgiveness of sins and who lead lives consistent with this confession.". Organized in 1874 with 22 local congregations, the Federation has now grown to 250 churches, 270 preaching stations with 155 pastors and about 23,000 members
The ultimate objective of the EFCA mission in Germany has been the planting of churches within the’ framework of the GFC Home Missions Department. This, experiment in cooperation has underscored several reasons why North American missionaries should cooperate; with European evangelicals.
1. We can learn from our European brethren. Although, growth rates of evangelical bodies in West Germany leave much to be desired, it cannot be maintained that American, efforts have been more effective than German ones. There is a lot to be learned, for example, from the GFCvs church planting efforts. Several years ago the director of the Home Missions Department initiated a well-orchestrated effort designed to tap the church planting potential of the denomination. One major aspect has been a new thrust in theological education. In 1978 an instructor of missions was added to the faculty of the seminary operated by the denomination at Ewersbach. Originally only two courses were offered, Theology of Mission and The Christian Mission and World Religions. By 1982 four more had been added, including a church planting course for graduating seniors.
Since church planting is a form of practical theology, the only way to teach effectively was to find some way to combine formal classroom experience with on-the-job training. Based on the lectures, the students were to develop a strategy for a new church-planting ministry in a specific city. Each one of them was to be involved in gathering information on that city, evaluating statistics, considering various evangelistic methods, as well as training the local believers. It was hoped that one of the class members would, equipped with that strategy, take up the position of church planting pastor in the target city after graduation.
Several months later another group of students was to provide assistance by planning and conducting a two-week evangelistic campaign, and thus fulfill their evangelism internship requirement, which is also part of the curriculum. If the plan worked, the course, which was to be offered each fall, could be instrumental in starting one new church each year, as well as increasing the number of pastors equipped for this type of ministry. To date this sequence has been implemented twice and has been instrumental in the development of two new churches: Mainz (1982-1983) and Aurich (1983-1984).
The other major component in the new program is a series of weekend church-growth seminars that are now being offered about 10 times a year. A combination of lectures presented by home missions staff members, as well as experienced church planters, and a detailed workbook are used to guide delegates through the following six subjects: What is church growth? What is the condition of the local church? (What does an analysis of membership statistics tell us? What is hindering and/or encouraging growth?) How can a church achieve spiritual growth? How can a church achieve quantitative growth? How can the church fulfill its evangelistic responsibility? Development of a church-growth plan for the local church. Each delegation then returns to its own church with specific proposals for evangelistic outreach, as well as a notebook full of teaching helps with which they are to conduct a follow-up seminar. In 1983, 300 workbooks were distributed.
As a result of these efforts, 16 new churches have been planted during the last eight years. Thus, it can no longer be maintained that the Europeans themselves are not planting churches. Cooperative efforts give us the advantage of learning from the insights gained by our national brethren, something of great value to any cross-cultural missionary.
2. Cooperation is more effective than competition. During their first term all EFCA missionaries are required to spend one year of internship in a German Free Evangelical Church. Two of our men did so in the GFC in Nuremburg and developed an effective model of cooperative church planting. During the latter part of the internship, two cities, Wurzburg and Neumarkt, were targeted for church planting. The Bible studies that were then started in each city and maintained by the Nuremburg GFC during the missionaries’ furlough served as a starting point for the church-planting efforts carried out during the missionaries’ second term.
At first the groups in Wurzburg and Neumarkt were considered stations of the mother church in Wurzburg. With its help, in the form of choirs, speakers, and a constant flow of visitors, the missionaries were able to lead the churches to independence within a relatively short period of time. For example, in 1982, four years after its beginning, the church in Wurzburg was accepted as a member of the Federation of Free Evangelical Churches. It now has its own pastor, supplied by the denomination, and the missionary has been freed for other responsibilities. The work in Neumarkt is developing along similar lines and the EFCA workers plan to withdraw within two years, or six years after beginning the work. One of the most encouraging developments in Neumarkt is that this young church will in all likelihood serve as a mother church for a new work in Regensburg.
The same pattern of church planting is now being developed in cooperation with the GFC in Munich. However, this time around the initial stage of our work calls for a year-Song analysis designed to determine church planting potential in the greater Munich area. It is our hope that the survey report will provide valuable information to both the GFC and the EFCA.
The American missionaries have not merely provided manpower but have been able to, in cooperation with German evangelicals, bring an effective contribution to the church-planting efforts in this country.
3. Cooperation is required by the socio-religious situation. The religious commitment of the average West German is focused on the ecclesiastical institution. In other words, personal devotion has been replaced by a modicum of routine public practice. And although many consider the institutional church irrelevant and thus maintain no active relationship to it, it is an integral part of the cultural matrix and formal.ties, especially membership, have become the primary focus of religious commitment. Thus, an open challenge usually proves to be self-defeating. To suggest that the nominal Christian’s church membership or baptism is an inadequate expression of Christian faith triggers intense defensiveness and suspicion. We have found it better to speak in terms of the object, or focus, of an individual’s faith, rather than immediately calling it into question. It is not difficult, in the course of a discussion, to determine whether one’s belief is directed towards a personal God, specific teachings, or an institution. Once this has been established the missionary can address the ineffectiveness of a religious commitment to anything other than Christ himself.
This institutional orientation will also severely limit the credibility of the missionary’s church-planting efforts. He will be perceived as sectarian, or as the representative of just another of the many cults and sects that have their origins in America. Some form of identification with German church groups is the best way to assuage this fear. and counter the charge of illegitimacy. Right from the beginning the fledgling church can be given a name which, although unfamiliar, can be presented as one of the legitimate German free churches. As a fraternal worker of that denomination, the cross-cultural missionary can defend his activities on the basis of a commission given by German church leaders, who will even represent his interests should that become necessary.
This was our experience in Wurzburg. The way was prepared by the GFC’s home missions director, who explained our intentions to his Baptist and Methodist colleagues, both of whom have works in the city. The pastor of the GFC in Nuremburg helped avoid misunderstanding and foster good working relationships by introducing the EFCA missionary to the pastors of the other free churches. Right from the beginning our work was done in the name of the Federation of Free Evangelical. Churches and the young church was encouraged to, and subsequently did, join that denomination. This helped solve the problem of what to do with the church after the missionary was withdrawn. Integration into the denomination provided the much-needed support of a larger fellowship, a source of national pastors, and helped secure the continued development of the new church.
There are, of course, potential difficulties and dangers* in any close working relationship. Therefore, we suggest the following guidelines for cooperation:
1. Tolerance. We must not compromise doctrinal essentials, but, at the same time, we must be willing to overlook differences in doctrinal details. It is no secret that the major protestant bodies in Europe are plagued by doctrinal liberalism. Certainly a close working relationship with those who deny the very core of what we hope to communicate would compromise the integrity of our ministry and divine calling. Such groups often emphasize baptismal regeneration to an extent that undermines the evangelistic effort and the need for personal repentance. Where such clear differences in goals and beliefs exist cooperative ministries could only lead to confusion am frustration. On the other hand, the North American must be willing to recognize that many doctrinal issues, upon which entire denominations have been built in America, grew out of the religious and historical milieu unique to America.
For example, many of the teachings on social habits, associated with American conservatism, are not shared by our European brethren. Their use of alcohol has often been a hindrance to cooperation. This does not imply that we should accept their position and modify our convictions, but because the issue lacks significance in Germany we cannot justify making it a criterion for cooperation.
A much more difficult issue, perhaps the primary stumbling block, has to do with divergent views on Scripture. EFCA missionaries do not entertain the slightest intention of compromising their understanding of the Bible as God’s inspired and infallible Word. However, two considerations suggest the advisability of a more tolerant attitude toward German believers.
The first thing has to do with language difficulties that arise when discussing the doctrine of inspiration. When we speak of verbal or plenary inspiration, most Germans view this as necessarily implying a dictation form of inspiration. This often gives the impression that they have softened their stance on Scripture. However, there are many German evangelicals, who, although not using the term verbal inspiration, do believe that God inspired, not only the message, but the very words of the Bible. In light of this, it seems wise to refrain from hasty judgments.
The other thing that makes this a difficult issue is the fact that theological battles fought in Europe have not left even the free churches unscathed. One can, without a great deal of difficulty, find church members and even some pastors who hold to a more liberal view of Scripture than we think acceptable. This phenomenon, however, should not be used as the primary criterion in evaluating the spiritual well-being of any given denomination.
A more accurate reading can be gained through personal contact with German leaders, including seminary teachers. If their view of Scripture is solidly biblical, it would seem unfair and counter-productive to subject the entire denomination to wholesale condemnation and abandon it just because it is struggling to stay off the liberal tendencies so rampant in Europe. Let us, therefore, be careful, discerning and, at the same time, tolerant, refusing to succumb to the temptation of establishing yet another denomination on the basis of minute points of doctrinal difference or supposed liberalism.
2. Careful choice of partner. We must seek out those groups with whom we can achieve maximum effectiveness. The North American missionary has a unique contribution to make and, if he seeks out like-minded Germans in a humble spirit, he is certain to find partners. This, of course, does not mean that he must perpetuate the mistakes and failures of the ineffective methodology of the partner organization. A certain degree of autonomy is desirable but should not always be insisted upon.
Before launching out into an independent work, he should ask himself the following questions: Is my approach biblically based or simply an American transplant? Has my approach proven successful on European soil? Will the advantage of my approach outweigh the disadvantages of working independently?
It was this kind of self-examination that led to our cooperation with the Federation of Free Evangelical Churches. The first EFCA missionaries arrived in Germany in 1958 and started an independent church-planting ministry in Bad Gandersheim and Osterrode in the Harz. Several years later personnel problems forced the mission to part company with several co-workers, which raised serious questions about the future of the work. At that time it was decided to seek the advice of the GFC, which, like the American Free Church, was a member of the International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches. The GFC leaders asked us to consider working in Southern Bavaria. After surveying several cities, Augsburg was targeted and in 1968 EFCA missionaries began a work there under the auspices of the GFC. During the ensuing years the working arrangement was gradually developed and defined. It preserves the autonomy of the EFCA staff-in all matters of finances, personnel, and methodology, and at the same time provides the benefits of cooperation,
Interdenominational mission societies, and those finding it impossible to work with their denominational counterparts, should consider checking the following sources for information on potential partners before launching or continuing an independent work in Germany:
(a) The World Evangelical Fellowship and its national counterpart, the German Evangelical Alliance. The WEF describes itself as a ". . . catalyst and efficient liaison to stimulate joint action among Christians and to avoid costly duplication in evangelism, missions, theological research and training, emergency relief and development, social justice, and other biblical concerns." This unifying role of the WEF, as well as its doctrinal statement could well provide the basis for further cooperation.
(b) The Union of Free Evangelical Churches.
(c) Other American missions known to be cooperating with German groups. The Conference for Church Planting may provide an effective forum for this kind of exchange.
3. Definition of the working relationship. Failure to formulate a comprehensive strategy, the limits of autonomy, and the degree of cooperation can lead to misunderstanding. Our relationship to the Federation of Free Evangelical Church in West Germany has been governed by the following statement:
Although responsible for its own personnel, finances and strategy, the Evangelical Free Church-West German Staff shall work in close cooperation with the Federation of Free Evangelical Churches in West Germany. This shall include: (l) an internship program for new staff members; (2) attendance at their conferences; (3) consultation with the Federation of Free Evangelical Church in West Germany on all major decisions facing the Evangelical Free Church-West German Staff; and (4) integration into the Federation of Free Evangelical Churches in West Germany of the churches planted by the Evangelical Free Church-West German Staff."
It has been our experience that German evangelicals are willing to cooperate with North American missionaries. This cooperation has not led to the compromise of convictions or sound methodology, but has led to increased effectiveness.
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